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Positive Psychology, For real?

By Esther van der Walt, Clinical Psychologist at PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre

During my formal psychology training I had to sit through a module of Positive Psychology. At the time I preferred to see myself as an emo; a real humanities student struggling through the deepest depths of the human soul; reading the authentic works of psychologies’ ancestors. Not a laughing matter, and far removed from whatever the light-hearted Positive Psychology lecturer tried to instil in us dark souls’ minds.

She tried to convince us that life is beautiful. And that we always have a choice to see life as beautiful, no matter what our circumstances and struggles are. It took me some years of living this beautiful life before realising the value of those lectures. So, with this insight follows an example of how Positive Psychology can be applied in life that does not seem so beautiful in the moment.

It is 03:37 in the morning, and my child is teething. She has been for years. Years? No, that cannot be. Okay for months on end, and what seems like years. She is currently bravely fighting the last of four enormous molars, and slowly, slowly seems to be getting the over hand. Or at least temporarily, because after an undefined time span of agony, sleep has set in. My sleep being out the window for this night, I think about beautiful things, and wondering why only now? Why not everyday? And I turn back to the ever-increasing list of things I passionately love:

  • To be carried away by beautiful music
  • To see dapple things. My cat’s fur, the shade of the thorn tree in the garden, sunrays in the forest behind the house. The first rains leaving drops on the ivy
  • Small birds through an excellent pair of binoculars
  • New season’s green, autumn’s rainbow of colours
  • To be under water
  • To sit al fresco under the tree for an entire Sunday, eating, reading, laughing
  • The Drakensberg. To wake up in a cave overlooking nothing humans created
  • To be too close to elephants
  • The Southern sky’s summer hunting scene displayed in the stars
  • Fresh water, blue sky, sweet grass
  • To be alone
  • To be with loved-ones
  • To cook slow food with superb ingredients
  • To buy special gifts and to wrap them
  • To receive special gifts, beautifully wrapped
  • To have time. Not to be pressurized by anything
  • To take beautiful pictures and to share them
  • To make a fire on the ground
  • A comfortable couch
  • A comfortable couch in a farm kitchen
  • Reading a beautiful recipe book on a comfortable couch in a farm kitchen
  • Pure cotton. Pure silk. Pure coffee. Pure chocolate. Real vanilla
  • New linen bedding
  • To light a candle
  • Healthy, happy kids somewhere in rural Africa
  • Very long holidays
  • To look forward to something very special
  • To wonder off to dreamland
  • To hear the rain on the roof and nothing else
  • A Highveld thunder storm
  • To scribble down a beautiful quote
  • Not to look my age – naturally
  • To find a surprise connection with someone through a shared favourite author, painter, band, philosophy, whatever
  • To reconnect with a long lost friend
  • To receive a package from Amazon.com, or from someone real
  • And to hear my child breathing the breath of a contented being. To remember that her teething agonies and first steps and cries of laughter are indications of her being normal, and being happy. That she trusts me enough to allow me to raise her to the best of my abilities. That this teething phase, too, shall pass – and that I will soon be remembering these long nights of teething as fond memories.

I challenge you to compile your own list, and to revisit it when you are travelling through the valleys of despair. But also as a celebration of your life and your love of it.

Contact me at Psych Matters if you need guidance to do so.

With much love,

Esther

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